I’ve been playing organized baseball / softball for as long as I can remember. I’ve loved the game with a passion that only those who love the game can understand. For me, the joy of the game doesn’t come from watching professionals play but rather playing myself.
I don’t claim to be any good nor have I ever been any good for that matter. I love to joke (there’s always some truth in humor) that I could have been a professional ball player…all I lacked was size, speed, skill and knowledge of the game. But, as age and wisdom gain on me, age much more than wisdom, I am grateful that I wasn’t all that good in the first place as it enabled me to simply play the game with a joy of the soul for way more years than most can claim.
I wasn’t any better and truthfully a whole lot worse than most of my contemporaries at any age but I’ve sure outlasted most of them. I’m proud and delighted that at age 69 I’m still playing, albeit not so well and with more and more moments of “this isn’t as fun as it used to be” and “remember to take two Advil before playing”. Lots of people have been better skill wise than me but none loved the game any more than I do.
This past season was a disappointment to me. Our church team only won a couple of games and the season dragged on and on and playing on the brutally hot nights of July just about wore me out. I didn’t feel the same joy, the same excitement, the unbounded enthusiasm I’ve felt all the other years and I said “this was it”, it’s time to hang up the glove forever. It was a good run while it lasted. But time waits for no man and my time was up.
Recently, I went to Cooperstown to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame with some High School friends. We had all played at one time or another on baseball teams together and it was a time of joy, nostalgia and some serious storytelling. Our stories had some major exaggerations as to our self perceptions of skill level but who could challenge 55 year old memories? We watched some old timers suit up to play a game on what Cooperstown calls “Doubleday Field”. It cost some serious money to do that and I sort of scorned the old guys as they played their game of a lifetime. They looked about like I do when I play only they were wearing full uniforms; they were paying big money for the privilege. Their wives were in the stands cheering them on and rooting for the old home team. They wore the name of whoever their favorite professional ball player was on the back of their shirts. I have to confess that the “magic” for them wasn’t “magic” for me at all.
I got up from the stands and went down to the road out of Cooperstown for a mile or two to visit the “Farm Museum”. I enjoyed it every bit as much as the Hall of Fame and I guess that showed just what the big deals have been in my life. Farming and Baseball, how much sweeter can it get? I know, I’ve got a problem.
Our security company asked me pitch for them on their “Fall Ball” team and I couldn’t resist. I know I said I was going to quit after last summer but Cooperstown and that old magic dust stirred up one more time deep down inside my soul. Me quitting softball is like an alcoholic claiming to give up the bottle or a workaholic saying he was going to leave work early…don’t bank on it. I played in a double header last night at Cabin John Fields. We played in the rain, and ever so briefly as I sat in the dugout (we were playing on one the best of the fields we play on) I felt a moment of that old feeling of pure joy of the soul that comes from ball.
At that point it was early in the evening and only drizzling lightly. I was pitching a good game and feeling good. Later the rain would come harder and the hits would start going against me. I didn’t feel so good. Suddenly, the old feeling of “how cool is this” came over me. It was surreal. I stood there, face up against the fence, watching from the dugout with a light mist falling and it was almost out of the movies…there I was on my own little “Doubleday Field”” living the dream once again.
After having grounded out into two (well, OK, maybe even three) double plays I managed a line drive shot to Center Field that was ever so brief a memory of how I once could hit solid line drives and get on base when I needed to. No home run hitter was I ever (and never will I be) but I could get the job done when it came to getting on base. I felt so good, I took myself off the field and told the coach to put a pinch runner in for me. I guess age has caught up with me, I’d taken myself out of the game. In the old days if Jesus himself had shown up and asked me to come out so he could play an inning or two, I would have said “not right now Lord”. I figured I might as well get out feeling good and besides I’d had my moment in the sun, eh, I mean “rain” and leaving the game feeling good felt like the right thing to do.
I felt bad for silently laughing at those guys playing on the Doubleday Field” at Cooperstown. Here I was in no better shape and just one degree shy of being an embarrassment to myself let alone the younger guys I was playing with and feeling the “mo-jo”. I had no right to look down on those old guys playing in Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field”…they were living their own dream. More power to them. At 69, old, fat and slower than a turtle crossing the hot highway I was proud and delighted to be taking the field. One last season…maybe so, maybe so. Time waits for no man and has all but overtaken me but I can smoke a single every 3rd or 4th time up. “Be still O heart”, the game still evokes the memories of a youth that probably never existed in the first place but “the game” was a joy then and remains no less so today. God is good, enjoy whatever is special to you, keep playing “the game” as long as you can and play to win…it’s the only way I know. If you think this only about baseball and softball think again, there’s more than meets the eye in a good story!